12/06/2007 12:00AM

Hunting enters on roll

EmailOZONE PARK, N.Y. - The Queens County Handicap has been a haven for improving 4-year-olds and no one knows that better than Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who seeks his fourth win in this 102-year-old stakes race Saturday at Aqueduct with Hunting.

Personal Flag (1987), Lay Down (1988), and Philanthropist (2005) all were 4-year-olds when they won their first stakes in the Queens County for McGaughey. Hunting is already ahead of that trio, coming off a victory in the Grade 3 Stuyvesant last month over the main track after romping to a second-level allowance win at Monmouth Park.

Hunting, a gelded son of Coronado's Quest owned by Stuart Janney, has certainly turned things around from the summer when he was floundering in the second-level allowance condition. McGaughey explained that Hunting developed foot problems training over the Saratoga training track during the summer and he wasn't totally right when he ran twice at Belmont.

"He wasn't bad, he wasn't perfect," McGaughey said. "Then he got better and better. His race down at Monmouth, he was better than those horses and he liked the off track. I took a shot in the Stuyvesant. He was doing very well and had a great breeze before he ran. The race set up good for him and he kicked hard. He's going in the right direction."

Moving to the inner track, McGaughey is hoping there will be enough pace to set things up for Hunting, who will be ridden by Alan Garcia from post 2.

On paper, there appears to be sufficient pace with Barcola, who set the early fractions in the Stuyvesant, Barracuda Boy, Marital Asset, and Nkosi Reigns. From a speed-figure standpoint, Barcola ran the best race of his career over the inner track.

Marital Asset stretches out to 1 3/16 miles after winning two seven-furlong allowance races at Philadelphia Park. Owned and bred by Ned Evans and trained by Tony Dutrow, Marital Asset shows a similar profile to that of Liquor Cabinet, who rose from the allowance ranks to graded stakes winner in last year's Aqueduct Handicap. Liquor Cabinet was owned by Evans and trained by Richard Dutrow Jr.

"The horse is doing phenomenal," Tony Dutrow said. "I'm looking forward to him possibly doing something like Liquor Cabinet."